British-American Diplomacy
Preliminary Articles of Peace : Hunter Miller's Notes


No original of this treaty is to be found in the archives of the Department of State or in the Library of Congress. The available evidence tends to support the view that no such original was ever received in the United States.

The text of the treaty here printed is from the original signed treaty which is in the British archives, a facsimile whereof is now in the Department of State file.

John Adams in his Journal for November 30, 1782, the date of signature, writes:

We met first at Mr Jay's, then at Mr Oswald's, examined & compared the Treaties.... Then the Treaties were signed, sealed & delivered, & we all went out to Passy to dine with Dr Franklin. (84 C. C. Papers, IV, folio 278.)

While the language quoted does not exclude the possibility of more than duplicate originals, still it seems more appropriate for two than for a greater number. Adams's letter of December 4, 1782, to Robert R. Livingston, Secretary for Foreign Affairs, purports to transmit an original. He says, "It is with much pleasure that I transmit you the Preliminary Treaty between the K. of G. Britain & the United States of America."

However, the words regarding the treaty may not have been used with precision and perhaps meant only a copy of the treaty. The letter (84 C. C. Papers, IV, folios 301-4), while signed by Adams, is endorsed, in Thomson's hand, "Duplicate from Mr Adams," and the enclosure following (folio 305) is a copy of the treaty.

It is to be remembered that at this period letters overseas were usually written in from two to four or even more originals, all of which were signed and sent, if possible, by different ships. Complaints of tampering with the despatches were frequent. Formal documents were often prepared in various originals for this reason. Congress ordered six ratifications of the treaties of February 6, 1778, to be transmitted abroad "by different conveyances" and directed the Marine Committee to "provide vessels for carrying the said despatches" (Journals, XI, 463-64).

But when there was an enclosure to a letter, it might well be that there was available only one original of the enclosure; so, while each one of the (say) four texts of the letter was in a strict sense an original, the enclosure in three of them would be a copy; and consequently one may and does find an original letter which says it encloses an original document, when the enclosure with it is a copy.

The report of December 14, 1782, addressed to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and signed by Adams, Franklin, Jay, and Laurens, the body of which is in the writing of William Temple Franklin (85 C. C. Papers, folio 254), enclosed "a Copy of the Articles," and the enclosure (folio 262) is a copy. Adams's Journal for November 30 and the two letters of December 4 and 14, 1782, above cited, are printed in Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, VI, at pages 90, 106, and 131, respectively.

Further light is thrown on the question by certain letters of Richard Oswald (who signed the treaty on behalf of Great Britain), copies of which are in the Library of Congress (12 Franklin Papers, Oswald's Journal, 1782; but that book is not properly a "journal"; it is a transcript of volume 70 of the Shelburne Papers, now in the William L. Clements Library and entitled "The Correspondence with Mr. Oswald the Commissioner at Paris").

On November 30, 1782, Oswald wrote to his chief, the Right Honorable T. Townshend (Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs), enclosing "the Articles of Treaty, signed and sealed." On December 4,1782, another letter of Oswald to Townshend states:

This goes by the Messenger Coates, and accompanies Two Copies of the said Treaty, certified, as Duplicates of the abovementioned Original, by the Gentlemen who witnessed the same, when executed. The Commissioners did not incline to sign any more than the two Original that were executed on the 30th Ultimo being satisfied that Copies, so certified, will not be objected to in America, and is all that will be transmitted by them in the Packet they are to send to that Country.

Still another letter of the same date, addressed by Oswald to H. Strachey, who had been with him during the latter part of the negotiations, further discusses the procedure and refers to two copies certified by Doctor Franklin.

The conclusion from the foregoing is this. While it was a common practice at the time to sign more than duplicate originals of a treaty, that course was not followed in this instance. Only two originals were signed. It was agreed that certified copies would be sufficient for use in the United States, and accordingly various certified copies were prepared, some of them being certified by Benjamin Franklin. One of the two originals was delivered to Oswald and sent by him to London. The other original was retained by the American Commissioners in Paris; and at the time only certified copies were sent to the United States, both in Adams's letter of December 4 and in the report of the Commissioners of December 14, 1782.

The Department of State file, so far as it goes, confirms these conclusions, because it contains two certified copies of the treaty; one of them is certified by W. T. Franklin, without date, with the words "A true Copy from the Original in my Possession." The other has on its final page a certification under the seal of Benjamin Franklin, which is over the original blue ribbon which still binds the sheets together; it is dated at Passy December 4, 1782, and reads, over Franklin's signature, "A true Copy, examined and compared with the Original by."

Neither of those two certified copies notes or has any interlineations; and neither is the same as the signed original in punctuation; each omits one word; and the two differ in those regards inter se; the text of the treaty in the Statutes at Large appears to have been taken from the copy certified by Doctor Franklin; for in that copy the word "said " is omitted in the phrase " along the said Highlands " in the opening sentence of Article 2; and in the same article " Phelipeaux" is "Phelippeaux."

However, there was one original in the possession of the American Commissioners at Paris, and the question remains, What became of it? The evidence on this point is negative.

After Franklin came back to the United States in the summer of 1785, he wrote a letter on September 19 to Jay, who by this time had become Secretary for Foreign Affairs, saying that he transmitted by the hands of his grandson (W. T. Franklin) all the original treaties which he had been concerned in negotiating (Diplomatic Correspondence, 1783-1789, I, 398-99).

That letter did not contain a list of the enclosed papers; but on October 11, 1785, Jay, in a report to the President of Congress, made such a list (81 C. C. Papers, I, folios 445-47). That list is very interesting. It includes instruments of ratification, as well as original treaties; indeed, it includes about every original paper that one would expect to find in it, with the single exception of this treaty of November 30, 1782; it includes even the British instrument of ratification of this treaty; and, furthermore, every original paper mentioned in the list is either in the archives of the Department of State or in the Library of Congress.

A possible inference is that the original of this treaty in some way disappeared from the Paris files of the American Commissioners. Clearly Franklin would have brought it with him if it had then been found. He said he transmitted the originals of all the treaties which he had been concerned in making, and this was one of them, and he did bring with him the British instrument of ratification of this very treaty.

There are two copies of the treaty which have some bearing on the form of the originals. One of them is in Oswald's Journal (beginning at cage 646). Toward the end of that copy, after the signatures but before the separate article, there is a note of two interlineations. It seems clear from them that that copy was written directly and literally from one of the signed originals, namely, the one delivered to Oswald and now in the archives of the British Government; and the facsimile of that original shows this to be the case.

The other copy is that written in the journal of the American Commissioners, beginning at page 62; the book is in the Library of Congress (8 Franklin Papers, Records of the U. S. Legation, Paris; Peace Commissioners, 1780-1783. There is a duplicate journal, 8A, of the same title, but it has a different pagination and lacks some pages.)

Toward the end of that copy, after the signatures but before the separate article, appears a note of four interlineations, witnessed by the two secretaries; it thus appears probable that that copy was also written directly and literally from a signed original which the American Commissioners in Paris retained. This seems the more likely in view of the fact that the notes of interlineations in the respective journals differ as to their line and page numbers; and the American record shows four interlineations, while the British record shows only two. Furthermore, one of the interlineations recorded in each list is of the words (in Article 7) "or carrying away any Negroes, or other Property of the American Inhabitants."

The insertion of those words was, as Adams's Journal shows, a change made almost at the moment of the signature of the treaty (Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, VI, 90).


The Department of State file now contains a facsimile of the United States instrument of ratification. The cover page reads " Ratification of the Preliminary Articles of Peace between Great Britain and the United States of America. Done at Paris November 30th 1782." The instrument is dated April 15, 1783; it is signed at the end by Elias Boudinot and Robert R. Livingston and attested by Charles Thomson, Secretary. The Great Seal is impressed at the left top of the first page. So there can be no doubt that April 15,1783, is the correct date of ratification by the United States (see Journals, XXIV, 243-51). The approval by Congress on April 11, 1783, of the proclamation printed below, was a real assent to the articles of November 30,1782, but was not a formal ratification thereof. The letter of Livingston to John Adams of April 14, 1783 (Wharton, Diplomatic (correspondence, VI, 375), says that "(Congress, the day before yesterday, agreed to ratify the Provisional Articles as such." This must refer to the vote of April 11; but the ratification was voted on April 15.

Indeed, there was much divergence of opinion in Congress as to the propriety or necessity of ratification of the " Provisional Articles. " A majority of the committee which reported on the matter (James Madison and Richard Peters) opposed ratification. The minority (Alexander Hamilton) favored It. The form of the treaty was thought to be somewhat ambiguous; James Wilson called it "contingently definitive." Finally unanimous ratification was voted (see the notes of Madison, Journals, XXV, 958-60).

It is to be remembered that Congress at this time was aware of the fact that the Preliminaries of Peace between France and Great Britain, and also between Great Britain and Spain, had not only been signed on January 20, 1783, but had gone into force by the respective exchanges of ratifications on the following February 3 and 9.

There is no protocol or other similar record of the exchange of ratifications in the Department of State file; and no such record has been found in the British archives.

The date of exchange is reported in a letter of John Adams to Livingston, August 13, 1783 (Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, VI, 645); also in a letter of Hartley to Fox (Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) of the same date (copied in Bancroft's Transcripts, Hartley's Negotiations, II, 41, NYPL).


The separate article did not go into force. It is omitted from the instrument of ratification of Great Britain and also from that of the United States, although in the draft voted by Congress (Journals, XXIV, 250-51) it appears. See the letter of Livingston (Secretary for Foreign Affairs) to the Commissioners, under date of April 21, 1783 (Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, VI, 387), where he says:

You will observe that the [enclosed] ratification [of the provisional articles] does not extend to the separate article. The treaty between Spain and Great Britain [the preliminaries of January 20, 1783, by the third article whereof Great Britain yielded both East and West Florida to Spain renders it unnecessary, and Congress not caring to express any sentiment upon that subject. (Italics not in original.)

The separate article was supposed to be secret; but according to Livingston, it very soon became an open secret (letter to the Commissioners, March 25, 1783, Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, VI, 338-39).


The United States instrument of ratification of April 15, 1783, was published at the time and served as a proclamation of the text. There is a print of it among the broadsides in the Library of Congress (see Journals, XXV, 985 item 403); a facsimile thereof is in the Department of State file; like the original instrument it omits the separate article.

It has at various times been stated that Congress ordered the proclamation of the above articles (except the separate article) on April 11, 1783. This, in the correct sense of a proclamation of the text, is erroneous. On the date mentioned, Congress agreed unanimously to a proclamation Printed below) which declared "the Cessation of Arms" and which mentioned generally the "Provisional Articles" of November 30, 1782, but more particularly the various documents signed at Versailles January 20, 1783; namely, the "Preliminaries for restoring Peace" between France and Great Britain and between Spain and Great Britain, and the Declarations for Suspension of Arms between Great Britain and the United States (Document 8).

The date of that proclamation has been given as April 12 (Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, VI, 370-72). But April 11 is the date of the original. Six early prints are noted in Journals, XXV, 984-85. The Journals of Congress give April 11 as the date (Journals, XXIV, 238-40), and on that day it was transmitted to Sir Guy Carleton, (commander of the British forces in New York, although the circular letter to the governors of the States was under date of April 12 (Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, VI, 367-68).

The original proclamation is in the archives department of the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; not in the Massachusetts State Library, as stated in Journals, XXV, 984, item 400. The text here printed is from a facsimile thereof which is now in the Department of State file of the Declarations for Suspension of Arms (Document 8).

By the UNITED STATES of America In Congress Assembled. A PROCLAMATION, Declaring the Cessation of Arms, as well by Sea as by Land, agreed upon between the United States of America and His Britannic Majesty; and enjoining the Observance thereof.
Whereas Provisional Articles were signed at Paris on the Thirtieth Day of November last, between the Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United States of America for treating of Peace, and the Minister Plenipotentiary of His Britannic Majesty, to be inserted in and to constitute the Treaty of Peace proposed to be concluded between the United States of America and his Britannic Majesty, when Terms of Peace should be agreed upon between their Most Christian and Britannic Majesties: And Whereas Preliminaries for restoring Peace between their Most Christian and Britannic Majesties were signed at Versailles, on the Twentieth Day of January last, by the Ministers of their Most Christian and Britannic Majesties: And Whereas Preliminaries for restoring Peace between the said King of Great Britain and the King of Spain were also signed at Versailles, on the same Twentieth Day of January last.
By which said Preliminary Articles it hath been agreed, That as soon as the same were ratified, Hostilities between the said Kings, their Kingdoms, States and Subjects, should Cease in all Parts of the World; and it was farther agreed That all Vessels and Effects that might be taken in the Channel and in the North Seas, after the Space of Twelve Days from the Ratification of the said Preliminary Articles, should be restored; that the Term should be One Month from the Channel and North Seas as far as the Canary Islands inclusively, whether in the Ocean or the Mediterranean, Two Months from the said Canary Islands as far as the Equinoctial Line or Equator; and lastly, Five Months in all other Parts of the World, without any Exception or more particular Description of time or Place: And Whereas it was Declared by the Minister Plenipotentiary of the King of Great Britain, in the Name and by the express Order of the King his Master, on the said Twentieth day of January last, that the said United States of America, their Subjects and their Possessions shall be comprised in the above mentioned Suspension of Arms, at the same Epochs, and in the same manner, as the three Crowns above mentioned, their Subjects and Possessions respectively; upon Condition that on the Part, and in the Name of the United States of America, a similar Declaration shall be Delivered, expressly Declaring their Assent to the said Suspension of Arms, and containing an Assurance of the most perfect Reciprocity on their Part: And Whereas the Ministers Plenipotentiary of these United States, did, on the same Twentieth Day of January, in the Name and by the Authority of the said United States, accept the said Declaration, and declare, that the said States should cause all Hostilities to Cease against His Britannic Majesty, his Subjects and his Possessions, at the Terms and Epochs agreed upon between His said Majesty the King of Great-Britain, His Majesty the King of France, and His Majesty the King of Spain, so, and in the same Manner, as had been agreed upon between those Three Crowns, and to produce the same Effects: And Whereas the Ratifications of the said Preliminary Articles their Most Christian and Britannic Majesties were exchanged by their Ministers on the Third Day of February last, and between His Britannic Majesty and the King of Spain on the Ninth Day of February last: And Whereas it is Our Will and Pleasure that the Cessation of Hostilities between the United States of America and his Britannic Majesty, should be conformable to the Epochs fixed between their Most Christian and Britannic Majesties.
We have thought fit to make known the same to the Citizens of these States, and we hereby strictly Charge and Command all our Officers, both by Sea and Land, and others, Subjects of these United States, to Forbear all Acts of Hostility, either by Sea or by Land, against His Britannic Majesty or his Subjects, from and after the respective Times agreed upon between their Most Christian and Britannic Majesties as aforesaid.
And We do further require all Governors and others, the Executive Powers of these United States respectively, to cause this our Proclamation to be made Public, to the end that the same be duly observed within their several Jurisdictions.
Done in Congress, at Philadelphia, this Eleventh Day of April, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Three, and of our Sovereignty and Independence the Seventh.
Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America.
Edited by Hunter Miller
Volume 2
Documents 1-40 : 1776-1818
Washington : Government Printing Office, 1931.
127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.